Cognitive dissonance – “A mental conflict occurs when beliefs are contradicted by new information. This conflict activates areas of the brain involved in personal identity and emotional response to threats. The brain’s alarms go off when a person feels threatened on a deeply personal and emotional level causing them to shut down and disregard any rational evidence that contradicts what they previously regarded as ‘truth’.”
Why They Don’t Leave
We can shake anyone’s foundation simply by contradicting what they feel to be true. It’s not a tactic suggestion. Instead, it is a very clear explanation as to why those who seem to live in abusive situations not only stay, but often make excuses for the one(s) abusing them. These people are the one’s who are apologizing to their abusers after getting punched in the gut and stabbed in the back.
The confusing part for those on the outside is it is believed that the victims understand that what they are going through is wrong and abnormal. More often than not, the abuse is all they know, and even when it’s not, they don’t remember reality outside of the abuse. When we go in wanting to tell them that they are being abused (often assuming they already know and understand that), we are actually knocking the wind out of them.
It becomes a shocking revelation that is often rejected and excused at the beginning. In my situation, I can’t remember anyone pulling me aside or sitting me down and saying, “you are being abused”. People may have thrown in conversations that what was happening was abuse, but I would excuse it, brush it off as a one time thing, and more often than not, explain it away.
Many friends and family didn’t even notice the abuse for what it was because it was hidden from them. Narcissists of any kind are usually decent about keeping the most abusive sides of themselves hidden, locked behind closed doors for their family’s to suffer from. But, either way, I don’t know that I was ready to hear it from anyone who may have known my abuser or seen us interact. It took an outside source, revealed to me by God, in His timing.
Cognitive dissonance doesn’t just happen. It comes from something that was built upon over time. There was a foundation laid, even if it was a weak foundation, it was a foundation nonetheless. This means a life, identity, “security”, etc. were built upon this. Anything or anyone that comes along trying to mess with the foundation messes with a person’s entire view of their lives and who they are themselves.
Even if the “truth” that someone’s foundation was built on was no truth at all, it still wrecks them when it is questioned or disturbed. Victims of abuse have their realities erased and rewritten through the gaslighting process that takes place over the entirety of the abusive relationship (and as long as the abuser is allowed to continue after the relationship has ended).
I had to grieve the life that I believed once was, that wasn’t, and the future that I had hoped for that would never be. I grieved these much longer and much deeper than the actual loss of relationship. This wasn’t because I didn’t care for the person I lost or that the relationship wasn’t important, but the pain of knowing my reality was not real at all was a devastating blow. I had to figure out where my foundation was, who I was, what part I played in all of this. It was like learning to walk all over again.
Someone can’t come back from this kind of blow with another weak and brittle foundation, expecting different results than before. I was a believer in Christ going into my abusive relationship, yet, somehow, I was still foolish in the foundation I chose in this relationship.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
Alternate to Actual Reality
Coming out of the alternate reality I was convinced was true was the hardest part of healing. The abuse, manipulation, and gaslighting was so bad, I would have almost argued with you that the sky was orange. This is the degree abusers will go to manipulate victims into believing that it’s all in their heads, and that they are the crazy ones. It’s sick, twisted, and more common than you actually want to know.
Those of us who hate seeing others go through abuse want to change it for them. We want to fix their problems, and pull them out. But, if we go about it that way, we will often do more damage than good. The reason being is because we would be setting out to do it in a way that makes us feel better, not what is in the best interest of everyone involved. God will call us to say the hard things, but He doesn’t tell us to run ahead of His timing. We may never understand His reasoning for the way things happen and are done, but we must understand that even when we feel like we are doing a good thing, other people may be more devastated than relieved for a time.
Speaking Truth Into Abuse
Each abuse situation is unique, we can never take the one size fits all approach. We would be bulldozing others over just to “get things done”. Real people, real lives, and real feelings are involved. Not every abused person is called, by God, to leave, but not all of them are called to stay either. It would be wise of us to understand that, and prayerfully seek God, asking for discernment.
Speak up exactly when God calls you to speak up, but be prepared to walk through the devastation with the victim afterwards. Remember that cognitive dissonance is something most abuse victims have, and that they will reject all reason for a time because they have been trained to believe they are crazy. The abuser was/is their Google, the end all be all, and they completely depend(ed) on them. Even though the security is false, the familiarity is scary to leave, no matter how dangerous it is to stay.
The more you know, the bigger impact you will have in changing the lives of the abused around you (even if you are the abused).
- Gaslighting – What You Need to Know About This Psychological and Emotional Abuse
- The One Thing an Abuse Victim Needs to Hear
If you need support please comment below, shoot me an email, or reach out via social media.
If you want to share your own story, knowing that you could help others, please submit here.
Click here for a free download to find practical help discovering, identifying, documenting, escaping and healing from abuse.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233